The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actress – 1971

Strong year, 1971. Especially in terms of who won. Check this out. First, Best Actor — Gene Hackman, for The French Connection. Classic character, great performance, not totally win-worthy, but the category isn’t all that strong, so it makes sense. Then, Jane Fonda wins her first Best Actress Oscar for Klute. Definitely the best decision in that category, and she as an actress definitely deserved it. And then this category — Cloris Leachman … I mean, it’s Cloris! Agree or disagree — it’s Cloris. And then Best Supporting Actor was Ben Johnson for The Last Picture Show, which is the one decision this year I really disagree with, mostly because I love Roy Scheider (and because Johnson didn’t do anything in the film).

Then you have The French Connection winning Best Picture and Best Director (which I talked about here), which I find to be amazing decisions because the film really signifies what the 70s were all about as a decade. Sure, people will say A Clockwork Orange should have won, but, me, I’ll take The French Connection any day. Kubrick belongs on his own level. But, that’s 1971. It might be considered weak compared to some other years from the 70s, but its actually very strong on its own.


And the nominees were…

Ellen Burstyn, The Last Picture Show

Barbara Harris, Who is Harry Kellerman and Why is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?

Cloris Leachman, The Last Picture Show

Margaret Leighton, The Go-Between

Ann-Margret, Carnal Knowledge

Burstyn — Double nomination. Less work for me. Love it when this happens.

The Last Picture Show is a film about a small town. That’s it. That’s all it is. It’s shot in black and white. That makes it classier. I have a hard time finding out why this film is so utterly brilliant, and yet, I do recognize it as a good and well-made film. So I don’t know. Anyway, it’s about all this stuff that happens in this small town. There’s the quarterback of the football team (Jeff Bridges) dating the prettiest, richest girl in town (Cybill Shepherd), and he wants to leave, and she wants to get with another guy, but he won’t be with her unless she’s not a virgin. There’s a lot of different things happening. What we’re interested in is this one.

Ellen Burstyn plays Cybill Shepherd’s mother, who used to have an affair with Sam the Lion, who is the dude who basically runs the town. That’s Ben Johnson’s role, the one he won Best Supporting Actor for. He basically owns all the major stores in town, and is just kind of there, doing odd jobs and such around town, sort of like the unofficial mayor. But everyone likes him. Anyway, she used to sleep with him, and he may or may not be Cybill Shepherd’s father (I think he isn’t). And she’s also sleeping with this other dude now, who Cybill Shepherd also sleeps with. Honestly, she doesn’t really have a direct plot line, but she does do a good job with the role. I remember distinctly noting that she did a good job with the role, and that I liked what she did more than Cloris. So that’s where I stand on that.

Harris — This is my one chance to talk about this film. And yet I can’t do it.

That’s not to say this film is bad. Far from it. It’s just that this film is so batshit insane, it’s beyond words. I’ve never seen anything like this film. Ever. And I love that.

The film is stream of consciousness. No joke. The entire film exists as a stream of consciousness narrative. Which means not even David Lynch can top this thing in terms of randomness. I wish I could link you to Youtube videos, but they were all taken down. A shame, since that’s really one of the only ways to see this movie nowadays. (Why would a company want to remove all traces of a movie this good from the world?)

Anyway, the film begins with Dustin Hoffman, a songwriter, sitting on his balcony, writing a suicide note. He writes the note, and jumps off. And he floats down to the ground, about fifty stories below, like he’s flying. And a credits song comes on, and the credits happen as he falls/flies. It’s very surreal. And as soon as he lands, he lands right on his psychiatrist’s couch (the psychiatrist is played by the great Jack Warden), and just starts talking to him as though nothing had happened. It’s amazing. The film is like this. It just moves from scene to scene like a dream. One minute you’re falling to your death, the next, you’re sitting on a couch.

And the film is about Hoffman being worried because a man named Harry Kellerman is saying horrible, horrible things about him, and he doesn’t know why. He hasn’t even met the guy before. And we basically have this nonlinear, stream-of-consciousness look at Hoffman’s life, and it’s incredible. Some crazy, crazy stuf happens. My favorite is when he’s with Warden, who, for no reason just starts doing all this weird shit. Like, one session, he’ll just be talking in a Jamaican accent for the entirety of the scene. Or my favorite is when he randomly just starts lip-synching to Ray Charles’s “Don’t Tell Me Your Troubles,” complete with vocal inflections and such in his face, and otherwise, he’s randomly doing normal shit like open up mail with his hands. It’s fucking amazing. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. It’s so off the wall, I love every fiber of its being. Dustin Hoffman is an actor who made such good choices. This is one of those lost films of his, but, if you can find it (and I have it. Please, try to see this. I will show it to you. It’s awesome), you won’t be disappointed.

Barbara Harris plays one of the women Hoffman sleeps with/dates. And she’s an actress/singer who is a little ditzy. And is also worried about getting old, I think. And her big scene is this audition scene she has, which is just hilarious, because she’s really kind of dumb and not very good. The character. The scene is hilarious. But, the performance is not one that was ever going to win. She’s great, but, you could never vote for this. However, I am so happy she got nominated, because this film is fucking incredible. Seriously. This will be on my list of films I’m glad I discovered because of this Quest. It’s so amazing.

Leachman — Cloris, now, plays the wife of the town’s football coach, who begins having an affair with one of his players (played by Timothy Bottoms, who is sort of the lead/co-lead of the film with Bridges). They have an affair, then Cybill Shepherd decides she wants him, and he stops the affair, but then Elle Burstyn is like, “Don’t be with my daughter, she’s an ungrateful bitch, stick with Cloris.” And he goes back with Cloris. That’s pretty much the storyline.

Cloris basically plays the role deadpan. She’s kind of like a 1970s version of Allison Janney in American Beauty — the housewife who is so dead in the marriage, she just sits there all day, comatose. And then Leachman has the affair, and is happier, then is upset when he leaves, then he comes back, and they’re sort of okay. That’s it, really. She’s not really in the film all that much. I’m actually really surprised she won. But, she is Cloris, so that’s why I’m ultimately cool with it. Wouldn’t vote for it, though. Not substantial enough for me. Definitely not enough screen time.

Leighton — The Go-Between has to go down as one of the worst films I had to endure during this Oscar Quest. Oh man, is it boring. I might go so far as to tell everyone to avoid this film at all costs, but — I won’t. Because, film is film. Nothing is that extreme. Everything has its value. But I’ll tell you — this one was tough for me to watch.

It’s a proper British drama. The whole thing takes place on a giant estate. People in costumes, talking proper — the whole nine yards. It’s about Julie Christie and Alan Bates as lovers who can never be together because he’s of lower social standing. And they want to, but can’t, and it’s sad. You know the deal.

Margaret Leighton plays the elder host of the group. The cranky old lady who is really against the whole thing and gets to act all old and such. It’s the old lady role in all of these types of movies. Do you really think I’m gonna vote for this one? Really?

Ann-Margret — I only now just realized that she goes by one name. Usually you just think about it as first name/last name — Ann Margret. No, it’s her first name, Ann-Margret. Weird. She’s like Sting.

Carnal Knowledge is a fascinating film. It’s very — dark. Pessimistic. Cynical. It’s also weird because — Mike Nichols made Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Graduate and Catch-22 as his first three films. They’re all pretty famous. (Catch-22 — meh. It’s okay. The other two, though — masterpieces.) Then he goes and makes this.

This is a drama about relationships starring Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel. No fooling. We meet them as college students. Nicholson is like thirty at this point. Fits like a glove. Garfunkel is the stable, relationship one, and Nicholson is the charming asshole. Garfunkel meets Candace Bergen and starts dating her and thinks he’s gonna marry her. Nicholson starts sleeping with her. That’s what he does. Garfunkel doesn’t know this. But she marries him anyway. Then we fast forward to them a decade later. Now Garfunkel is married and unhappy, and Nicholson has been sleeping around for years and years and has never found the right woman. He meets Ann-Margret. She’s getting older, and Nicholson’s made it clear that he wants a younger woman with, shall we say, certain proportions. So he starts dating her, but, basically uses her for sex, and doesn’t really have any honorable intentions for her. Meanwhile, she’s 35, and wants to marry. The clock is ticking. And he’s steadfastly against it, even though she’s probably the only woman who could tolerate the asshole that he is. And he refuses to marry her, and of course, they break it off. Then, we fast forward to ten years later, and Garfunkel is divorced (I believe), and Nicholson is dating Rita Moreno, who I think is a stripper or something — basically, the whole thing is this raw, jaded look at relationships. It’s a fascinating movie, just because it’s so fucking cynical. It says, “Look, we’re all gonna be unhappy, no matter what we do. So let’s just all choose how we’re gonna be unhappy and move the fuck on.” Interesting.

Ann-Margret is really strong here. I’m actually kind of surprised she didn’t win, even though I’m really not. She was the most likely recipient of a win based on a vote split from the two Last Picture Show nominees, but, both times (here and in Supporting Actor), one of the two won. That doesn’t happen every day. Anyway, I like Ann-Margret the most here, and I think she gave the legit best performance out of anyone here. Plus, she was awesome in Tommy, which, to me, one strong nomination in a lead category that shouldn’t have won there, plus a strong supporting part, equals one vote. Here’s my vote.

My Thoughts: Like I just said up there, I think Ann-Margret gave the best performance in the category, and even though I love Cloris Leachman, I’m using the vote split as an excuse to vote for who I want to vote for, even though I don’t really need to. Either way, Ann-Margret is my vote.

My Vote: Ann-Margret

Should Have Won: I guess no preference. But really the best three were Ann-Margret, Burstyn, and Leachman.

Is the result acceptable?: Yeah. I mean, it’s Cloris. I love Ann-Margret, and she was good enough to win a lead Oscar (but not really in the category, just, for the performance) in Tommy. So, I’d have preferred her, but, Cloris is fine. Who doesn’t love Cloris?

Performances I suggest you see: Who is Harry Kellerman and Why is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? is an amazing, amazing film. I love it so much. This is one of those movies that, whether you go out and see it based on this recommendation or not, I’m gonna have this in my back pocket, and I’m gonna show this to people, and they’re gonna be amazed at how fun this movie is to watch, because it’s so off-the-wall. I love this movie so much. If you catch this thing when you’re in the right mood — you’re in for something special. Actually, maybe you shouldn’t go out and find this because I say you should. Wait. Watch it off-guard. Show up at a theater where it’s playing. Let someone like me show it to you. You’ll be really surprised at how much you enjoy it.

The Last Picture Show is a very major film, historically. It’s also a very good film. So, I’d say most people need to see it, if they’re serious about film. It’s a big one. You don’t really want to be the person who hasn’t seen it. It’s good, though. It’s not like it sucks and you need to see it. I don’t love it as much as a lot of people do, but it is a well-made film.

Carnal Knowledge is a pretty strong film. But cynical. Cynical as all hell. I don’t know if I can watch it again. Because it’s just not me. But, it’s very, very strong, and well-made. And it’s a very interesting watch. I really do recommend it. But — cynical as all hell. My god.


5) Leighton

4) Leachman

3) Burstyn

2) Harris

1) Ann-Margret

One response

  1. Jason Hawkins

    you probably know this, but “Who is Harry Kellerman…” is back on youtube, the whole thing, in one video. I’ve never seen it, but I’m gonna try to make time for it now.

    April 2, 2012 at 5:47 pm

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